At first glance, "Love and Human Remains" has the elements of a simple, funny relationship drama -- young adults searching for love and coping with angst in the big city.
"Love and Human Remains" is a web of dark stories, none of them simple. There's the search for love, but there are also the searches for identity, sex and direction -- all playing against an unlikely serial-killer thriller. Somehow, it works, showing us how tenuous and rare love is and how perilous even the most mundane of our lives can be.
Brad Fraser wrote the screenplay, based on his play "Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love" (probably a more accurate title, but tough to fit on a movie marquee). There's some dry humor, but this isn't a comedy. It's a smart exploration of that time when most people leave their youth behind and figure out where they're going -- or figure out just how lost they are.
Thomas Gibson ("Tales of the City," "Chicago Hope") plays David, a gay waiter, once a child actor, who says he doesn't believe in love. Still, he senses possibilities in his sexually confused young co-worker, Kane (Matthew Ferguson). David's best friend, a Don Juan yuppie named Bernie (Cameron Bancroft), sounds clinically depressed or crazy. David finds insight in his friend Benita (Mia Kirshner), a rather sweet psychic dominatrix.
Candy (Ruth Marshall), David's roommate and once his lover, is a book reviewer who wants some tenderness in her life. Essentially straight, she can't figure out whether she'll find love with prevaricating Robert (Rick Roberts), a handsome bartender, or Jerri (Joanne Vannicola), an earnest lesbian schoolteacher.
In and out of clubs and apartments and beds, everyone in the cast is connected in one way or another. While they question whether they'll ever find the love most of them are looking for, everything they do is set against the backdrop of an extremely upsetting world.
Television screams images of violence and advertising, both brutal in their way. While characters put their hearts at risk, their bodies are at risk, too, with every stranger they sleep with. A killer stalks young women, so everyone we see may be a victim -- or the murderer. Danger lurks where it's least expected, and love comes in unconventional packages.
Canadian director Denys Arcand ("Jesus of Montreal") has pulled together a genuine, impressive cast for this, his first English-language film. Gibson and Marshall give especially good performances.
Arcand also strikes a fair balance between the intriguing characters and the slick-pop-melodramatic tendencies of the serial-killer story line. The movie might have been a touch more credible without the serial killer, but even if the suspense is fake, it works, and the added darkness helps give "Love and Human Remains" its weight.
"Love and Human Remains"
Starring Thomas Gibson and Ruth Marshall
Directed by Denys Arcand
Released by Sony Pictures Classics
Rated R (sexual situations, nudity, violence, drug use)